It’s no fairy tale
In the September 1, 2009 entry on his blog, Sivers wrote about a talk by Kurt Vonnegut, who explained “why people have such a need for drama in their life”.
He blamed it on the stories we grow up with. Sivers quotes him as saying, “People have been hearing fantastic stories since time began. The problem is, they think life is supposed to be like the stories.”
That sent me to Google to see if I could track down Vonnegut’s original talk. Bingo. Found it on Lapham’s Quarterly.
Vonnegut drew a graph on a blackboard, what he called “the G-I axis: good fortune-ill fortune. Death and terrible poverty, sickness down here—great prosperity, wonderful health up here. Your average state of affairs here in the middle.”
He warned his audience people buy books and magazines or go to movies to hear stories that fit the rise and fall and ultimate rise of their expectations. Cinderella fits the graph. Hamlet doesn’t.
Vonnegut says we recognize Hamlet as a masterpiece because “Shakespeare told us the truth, and people so rarely tell us the truth…The truth is, we know so little about life, we don’t really know what the good news is and what the bad news is.”
It’s worth checking out the Vonnegut talk and contemplating his graphs in the context of the stories we tell, whether it’s around the kitchen table, in ads, on the nightly news, or to a paying audience.
The talk is vintage Vonnegut, provocative and ironic. Reading it made me ponder our hunger for the dramatic, for the rise and fall and ultimate rise. If we need evidence of that hunger, we have only to surf the channels on TV or scan the magazines while we’re waiting to pay for our groceries.
Would it be a different world if we were satisfied with the small ups and downs of ordinary life? Maybe, but it’s unlikely we’ll ever find out.